The United States government is intensifying efforts to protect vulnerable states and at-risk communities from devastating wildfires.

The Department of Agriculture announced Thursday that $490 million from President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act will go toward projects to reduce fire risks in parts of Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington.

These projects are in addition to $440 million in wildfire mitigation efforts launched last year using funds from Biden’s $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Together, these resources will help protect up to 45 million acres in the western US, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. This includes 134 high-risk land areas where a wildfire could pose a serious risk to communities and infrastructure. He USDA Wildfire Crisis Strategypublished in January 2022, it identified 250 of these high-risk «fire sheds» in the western states.

“We hope and anticipate that about 200 communities in the western US will see mitigated wildfire risk as a result,” Vilsack said. Wednesday at a press conference.

Ongoing «mega-drought» conditions in the West have made many states vulnerable to destructive wildfires, turning the various wildfire seasons into year-round threats. Studies have also shown that climate change will increase both the frequency and intensity of such fires.

USDA’s work will focus on 11 landscapes, areas that were selected based on wildfire risks to nearby communities and buildings. The agency also prioritizes protecting underserved communities, public water sources, critical infrastructure and tribal lands, Vilsack said.

“We also took into account in this determination the most up-to-date science and predictive research that will allow us to determine where the risks are highest,” he said. “It is not about whether or not a forest will burn. It’s just a matter of when and where.»

The projects will include various methods to help prevent new fires from igniting, including prescribed burning, thinning of dense trees, and removing clumps of leaves and branches on the ground that can act as fuel for fires.

The Forest Service will also participate in reforestation programs, including efforts to restore old-growth forests and reclaim areas affected by previous wildfires.

“We know from science, we know from models, we know from input from those who live, work and raise their families in communities around these forests who understand and know about the forest, that there are critical areas that need to be worked on,” he said. vilsack. “And by working on them, you essentially create a circumstance where, in the event of a fire, you minimize the risk of the fire reaching a point where it endangers communities or critical infrastructure.”